A long, long time ago, when books, televisions, movie halls, theatres, cricket grounds, shops and porn sites were merely a twinkle in some ape’s eye, Mother Nature resigned herself to the fact that homo sapiens won’t do a damn thing unless there’s some entertainment value in it. Recognising, also, that humans need to spend a third of their life sleeping in order to spend the other two-thirds goofing off, she introduced in mankind a foolproof way to make sleep entertaining. It’s a trick I still turn to when I’m bored with everything else, and that is: have a nice long dream.
The excellent thing about dreaming is, of course, the complete unpredictability and therefore surprise factor of the results: no preliminary interviews or ads or preview spoilers or endless blog discussions to mess up the story. It doesn’t have to make sense for you to stay hooked. And, in yet another clear indication that every mother can anticipate her child’s greatest hopes and fears, it’s free.
When I was little and dreaming, if I woke up in between, I could restart the dream where it had stopped, just by the sheer force of my desire to know what would happen. This kind of lucid dreaming is a delicate tightrope act between staying asleep and waking up, but I stayed with the story about a rabbit in a forest for two nights running.
Animals featured heavily. In one dream when I was three or four years old, a po-faced man ushered a herd of buffalo into our living room (where they all streamed around the dining table even though buffalos and room both stayed the same size) and then he and my ayah conducted a bad bit of business, in which she gaily traded me in for a hard-boiled egg. It haunted me for years.
What I love about dreaming is the Dali-esque thwarting of all expectation. I remember, in particular, a dream where I was atop an elephant, sightseeing in the city of Lucknow, which was an intricately-woven Persian carpet alive with scurrying rats. Some of my favourite dreams are those endorphin-filled ones in which I ‘take off’ from a step, or a grassy hillside, and fly my heart out.
Of course, with every sort of entertainment you’ll occasionally get a dud, which in my case is the recurring nightmare about being on foot on a tiger- or lion-infested hillside, or the one about the sea level rising slowly but inexorably, into a wall of black water towering over my head. There’s the one in which the aircraft I’m on is taking off and loses power, crashing to earth; and the one in which my mother is chasing me with a knife, and my running legs get heavy and leaden and can’t take the next step…
But it’s not all entertainment: dreaming can also be useful, as in a possibly sanitised story I was told as a child about Francis Crick’s dream leading to the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. Sanitised, that is, if ‘dream’, here, was an euphemism for ‘LSD trip’.
My own single experience with hard drugs, by the way, happened in a dream—with low lighting and piles of cocaine and a feeling of being thrillingly stretched so that my head was in outer space, among the stars. The scary thing is, when I woke up the next morning, my body was still on the same high and stayed that way for three days. And by ‘scary’ I mean, ‘how great is that, and for free!’.
There are people who cannot remember their dreams, and people who claim they don’t dream (but apparently they do and just can’t remember them). Some say that makes for a more peaceful sleep. I say, it’s a waste of good entertainment.